Local Military News

Campaign: Love thy (military) neighbor

There's a sacrifice gap in America today that many don't see but that some -- military families -- see and feel every day.

Blame the professionalism of a volunteer force that is able, into a 10th straight year, to wage war against enemies far from the homeland.

The uncomfortable reality is that only 1 percent of U.S. adults serves in our military, and an even smaller number does most of the fighting. They're trained for it, they're good at it and they do it willingly.

But sustained warfare using only volunteers, we now know, results in multiple deployments and a pace of operations unimagined when conscripts filled the ranks. That has led to long and frequent separations from home, unprecedented levels of stress, higher rates of divorce and suicide, and higher levels of anxiety among military children.

Don't feel, however, that there's nothing you can do about it.

Whether you're a neighbor, business owner, corporate executive, community leader or ordinary citizen, you can help close the sacrifice gap by showing military families and veterans that you appreciate their service.

That's the purpose behind a new nationwide initiative, Joining Forces, launched this month by first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the vice president's wife.

"It's our hope," said Obama during a White House kickoff ceremony last week "that what we're launching today becomes part of the fabric of the country."

"This campaign," she said, "is about all of us joining together, as Americans, to give back to the extraordinary military families who serve and sacrifice so much, every day, so that we can live in freedom and security."

The first lady explained that, until four years ago, she had no understanding of the strain felt by military families. Then she began hearing their stories firsthand while campaigning for her husband in his run for the presidency.

Unlike the Bidens whose son Beau serves in the National Guard and deployed to Iraq in 2008, Obama said, "we're not a military family." Her father served in the Army before she was born. Besides photos of him in uniform, the military had no role in her life on the south side of Chicago.

"I'm sure I have cousins who have served. But is there anyone in my life today who is being deployed? Do I know anyone who's been deployed? And the answer is no," she said. That's also true of most Americans.

Inspired by "the amazing military spouses and children who we've met all across the country," Michelle Obama said she became committed to raising awareness of what families and veterans contribute, so public support stays strong or even deepens. As one military mom recently wrote to her, Obama said, "Please don't let Americans forget or ignore what we live with."

"Jill and I have spent the last two years listening, learning, developing the relationships, building credibility within the military community so people actually believe we mean what we say," the first lady said.

In January the administration announced that for the first time ever the well-being of military families would become a priority throughout the federal government, not just at departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Obama said Joining Forces is intended to get the rest of the country involved in lifting whatever burdens they can off of military families.

Neighbors can offer to mow their lawns, shovel snow or take more turns with the kids' carpool while service members are deployed. Teachers can identify military children in their classrooms and strive to recognize signals of stress and learn how to deal it. Employers can enhance job opportunities for military spouses.

Those with no clue how to reach out to military families can find ideas, local contact information on a new website, www.joiningforces.gov.

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